26/11 attacks anniversary: Iconic reminders of courage, sacrifice across Mumbai inspire us every day
Once a year, on the anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks, we remember the heroes and the martyrs who died so that we may live. But Mumbai forgets history easily. As the memory of those fear-filled nights recedes, and our ‘chalta hai’ attitude once again comes to the fore, we are in danger of repeating the mistakes that allowed 10 gunmen to take control of our beloved city for over 60 hours.
Luckily for us, the city has enough reminders of courage, bravery and sacrifice to inspire us and our future generations on a daily basis. We only need to know where to look.
While you are commuting to work or college via Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, take a moment to cross over to the passenger concourse for outstation trains. There, in one corner, next to the offices of the senior station manager and the head ticket collector, is a memorial to the railway passengers, workers and security staff who were killed that night. It has a fitting message for us detached citizens: ‘The fight against terrorism will continue.’
A few hundred metres away, at the Cama and Albless hospitals, is another memorial. It honours two guards who lost their lives in the attack.
Taking a walk on Marine Drive, or just sitting on the parapet of the promenade and enjoying the sea air? Cross the road to where the Police Gymkhana is. The Police Memorial outside is the largest 26/11 memorial in the city and remembers the 18 security personnel who were slain during the attacks — not just the officers and men of the Mumbai Police, but also those belonging to the Railway Protection Force (RPF), Government Railway Police (GRP) and Home Guards, as well as the commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG). It vows never to forget the heinous attacks, the courage of the security forces, and the sacrifices of our martyrs.
When you head for chaat at Chowpatty, don’t ignore the bust of assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble at the entrance. His memorial, ‘Prerana Sthal’, marks the spot where he sacrificed his life fighting Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to be caught alive in the attacks. Omble held the barrel of Kasab’s AK-47, taking all the bullets in his chest, enabling his colleagues to overpower the terrorist.
A little ahead, on Napean Sea Road, a chowk has been named in honour of additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte, who was gunned down.
If you happen to be at the Taj Mahal Hotel, walk to the waterfall at the other end of the lobby. Stand near the entrance to the spa and view the memorial plaque next to the waterfall. It remembers the 31 guests, hotel staff and security personnel who perished in the siege. In front of the plaque, lit candles pay homage to the martyrs.
A sculpture next to the plaque, called the ‘Tree of Life’, is also dedicated to them. A plaque has also been installed in the staff area of the hotel. And outside the kitchen area, a memorial remembers the chefs and kitchen staff who died in the attack. These two memorials are, however, not accessible to the public.
At the Trident Hotel, take the lift to the pool level, go through the revolving door to the portico outside, and pay your respects at a memorial for the guests and staff of the Trident and Oberoi hotels who died in the attacks. As you turn from the reception to make your way outside, glance at the wall alongside. A small plaque remembers the staff of the two hotels who sacrificed their lives in the call of duty.
At Cafe Leopold, the bullet marks are the memorials, grim reminders to the attacks, preserved as tributes to the people who died there. From Cafe Leopold, go further down Colaba Causeway till you reach the Khoja Jamatkhana. Turn left on the incline ahead into a narrow lane and you reach Chabad House.
Access to the memorials inside dedicated to the Rabbi, his family and other guests who died here, is restricted to Jews. But there are plans to convert the top two storeys into a museum and the terrace to a living memorial to all the victims of the attacks, irrespective of religion. The wall opposite the building, which was showered with bullets, bears a message condemning the terror attacks.
Incidentally, you don’t have to come all the way to South Mumbai to find these inspiring reminders. Drive along Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road towards Vikhroli, and ahead of Majas on your left is a public park dedicated to the memory of Vijay Salaskar, one of the bravehearts of Mumbai Police who died in the attack. In Poonam Nagar, on the other side of the road, are parks dedicated to three other bravehearts, Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte of the Mumbai Police and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of NSG.
You will also find public parks dedicated to the memory of Omble off the Western Express Highway in Goregaon East, at Gundavali in Andheri East, and at IC Colony in Borivali West.Memorials have also been erected in Goregaon West opposite the railway station, and in Kalyan West between the courthouse and the police control room. And in Virar, our brave police dogs have not been forgotten.
Caesar, Max, Tiger and Sultan, police dogs who helped detect explosives during the attacks, have their own memorials at a Virar farmhouse where they retired and died after years of active service.
When you are travelling outside Mumbai, too, you will come across 26/11 memorials. Pune has roads and parks named after Omble, Karkare and Kamte. Major Unnikrishnan is honoured in his hometown Bengaluru and other towns in Karnataka and Kerala. And Satara has honoured its son, Omble, and other bravehearts with a Martyrs’ Memorial. Now that you know where the memorials are, pay a visit. Not just on the anniversary of 26/11, but each time you pass by. They are inspirations our city and the coming generations need.
(Kaevan Umrigar is a heritage evangelist with Khaki Tours besides being an advertising copywriter and filmmaker. He is curating a remembrance tour for the 26/11 martyrs as part of Team Khaki’s efforts to make history relatable to the ordinary citizen.)